Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Volt - Alan Heathcock

Volt, Alan Heathcock, Graywolf Press, 2011

Volt is a superbly written collection of tense, suspenseful and very moving stories that lay bare violence, grief, compassion, and despair in the rural, fictional town of Krafton. Heathcock's writing is spare and precise, cutting quickly and exactly to expose the deepest emotions lying beneath the surface.

One of my favorite stories in the book was "The Daughter", in which the overwhelming love of a daughter for her mother is paired with the horror of an unspeakable accident. Miriam, the mother, is in mourning and depressed; her daughter Evelyn has come home from college to care for her. Miriam often walks in her fields to find solace. The unruly neighbor boys also like to play there, often intruding on Miriam and Evelyn's peace, sometimes even taunting them. When it is revealed that one of the boys has gone missing, she and Evelyn join the search, and a terrible memory comes back to haunt Miriam:
She gazed into the water, struck by a flash of recognition. She'd stood here before. Stood in this very spot, squinting down into darkness. Suddenly she felt it, a memory in her muscles...the cracking jolt up her arm...Bracingly cold, she thrashed, grasping through the muck to find what she knew was there. But it was only water, only mud...She sat slumped, her boots still in the pool.
As what the truth of what has happened slowly becomes clear to the reader, one is chilled, touched, and profoundly sad all at once.

Several of the characters come up in more than one story. The sheriff, Helen Farraley, was one of the best. She is amazingly tough, equally compassionate, and has a strong moral compass that does not always align with that of the written law. In "The Peacekeeper," Helen discovers the truth about a murder and takes justice into her own hands, not out of anger of her own, but in a moving attempt to spare the victim's family from further grief. In a later story, "Volt," she is charged with bringing in a young man who has missed his court date. After she endures a brutal attack from a protective member of his family, she finds him, injured, in a field:
Helen sat on the ground beside him. The boy moaned, his breathing deep and lurching. She lay a hand between his shoulder blades. His skin burned and Helen let her palm take the heat.
The author evokes so much in these few sentences, and the rest of the collection is no different. The experience of reading these stories is powerful, almost visceral. I strongly recommend this excellent collection to any reader who likes short stories and outstanding writing, and who is not afraid of exploring some rather dark* serious stuff.

Happy reading!

*I highly recommend this excellent interview with the author Alan Heathcock on Pam Parker's blog.

Adding Volt to my list of Indie Challenge reads.


  1. I really enjoy short fiction, and this collection sounds interesting. I had never heard of it.

    Great excerpt.

  2. This is new to me, but your review contains all I need to know about appealing short stories: the precision and sparseness. And if there's a good character who appears in more than one, that's perfection!

  3. A great collection. Can't go wrong with it. "Lazarus" is my favorite.

  4. Picky and Deborah, I think you will really enjoy this - if you read it let me know what you think! Steve, loved it as well, beautiful story.

  5. I really want to read this. Thanks for the review. I am a new follower. I would love to have you visit/follow my blog. Thanks. Donna

  6. Thanks so much for the visit & the follow, 99! Following you back,great "about me" :D


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